27 October 2012

Mingo Creek Association

The Whiskey Rebellion by William Hodgeland, 2006, Excerpts

Even as Alexander Hamilton began considering ways of bringing a federal army presence to the Forks of the Ohio, five hundred men calling themselves the Mingo Creek Association emerged as a power at the Forks. The association had a long ancestry. Men who became members and allies of the association had, in the years leading to ratification of the U.S. Constitution, closed roads to towns where debt cases were heard and foreclosed property was auctioned; they’d enforce boycotts on liquor brought in from the east, they’d condemned tax collectors, and they’d corresponded with Virginians and Kentuckians of the need for western unity.

When word spread that a deputy was trying serve papers in the Johnson case, the tax collector encountered a gang that took him into the woods and began by using a horsewhip on him. His naked body, stripes new and raw, received the blistering tar. He was stuck with feathers, tied up, and left in the woods in agony, his horse, money, and warrants seized.

Now the association set goals far broader than attacks on collectors. It planned to unite the four western counties, and the whole trans-Appalachian west into armed opposition to eastern oppression. Conveniently for the association’s plans, the sanctioned state militias, which organized and armed all able-bodied adult white males, was subject to extreme degrees of popular democracy. From Colonels down, officers were elected by the militiamen themselves, including by landless men and dependents in others’ households. Anyone possessed of charisma and effectiveness, even if lacking gorgeous uniforms, proud mounts, gleaming arms, or money, could rise in the militia system.

The association took an even more radical step. Creditors had been finding debt cases easier to bring and win. No citizen in the militia’s district, the association announced, was to bring suit in county court against any other citizen in the district without first applying to the association for what it presented as mediation. Mediators would be chosen by popular elections, held outside sanctioned political process.

Not surprisingly, given the association’s identity with the local militia, and the assaults for which it was becoming known, lawsuits for debt collection in the county court dropped off sharply. Going to law to collect debts or bring foreclosures suddenly took courage, even foolhardiness.

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